Nostalgia doesn't always leave pleasant aftertaste
SUMMER brings the heat, the bare skin and the interns. Which causes me the most discomfort, I wonder?
I don't particularly care for temperatures above 90 on weekdays, nor for the sticky subway rides, nor for seeing others' bare legs and midriffs.
But the summer interns at my company make me feel old and make me remember being young. Sometimes, their behavior reminds me of a youthful mistake, heat rises to my cheeks and I feel naked all over again.
This is all quite disorienting. Since graduating from college, I haven't had much sustained contact with those less mature than I. My temporary co-workers are around age 20, plenty old enough to buy cigarettes, vote and get drafted, yet I think of them as kids. We share 80 percent of our cultural touchstones and laugh together at lunch each day, yet I feel an impassable gulf between us.
All my summer jobs lacked the camaraderie of these kids' experience. I bumbled alone through overly air-conditioned offices, where I sat alone at clerical tasks or ill-defined documentation projects. I look back and can only see embarrassment.
If I wrote my resum according to my keenest memories of those summer internships, it would read:
State legislator's office: Coordinated filing and correspondence. Also, someone had to gently inform me that when my manager asked me to analyze some statistics ASAP, he meant for me to put aside all other tasks immediately.
Public radio station: Wrote public service announcements and created PSA filing system. Also, I made a joke that I don't even remember now and inadvertently insulted someone I admired.
Now-defunct Web hosting company: Tested Web sites and made suggestions for improvement. Wrote and edited help documentation. Also, I got an e-mail reminding me that I had a rather loud voice and that my cubicle neighbors could hear my end of my personal calls.
The habit carries over to my memories of school. Once or twice I approached a trusted teacher with some immature personal problem and got acerbic or on-the-nose advice. And years before I met my current partner, I flirted with boys (if saying "I am attracted to you" counts as flirting) who didn't flirt back.
Even the memories of fun and accomplishments come with a "yeah, but" of regret. I led the quiz team to victory, but I jumped in all the time and didn't give others enough room to shine. I wrote some great documents for that Web application, but I wish I'd gotten the job on my own and not through my parents' friend.
And I can glean no pleasure at all from memories of indiscretions that were fun at the time.
I made wince-worthy mistakes with booze, boys and writing. Yes, writing. A moment of bombastic self-indulgence on the printed page actually long outlives my friends' memory of a stupid ouzo-drenched insult, which makes me grateful to my friends and resentful of those crumbling stacks of my high school newspaper that I somehow can't bear to throw away.
As you may have guessed, part of the problem here is my neurotic obsession with memory, nostalgia and regret. Can other people enjoy contemplating their old vices? To me, the regret overwhelms the nostalgia, just as my envy of others' success battles to wash out my admiration.
My parents, my boss, Warren Buffett, even my husband sometimes seem to have danced over the ocean and skimmed through the air, pumping hard work into exploding fireworks of accomplishment. But when I look back at my years, I see uneven furrows in the dark earth, the swampy deltas and the eroded pathways of my tentative direction.
But when I wince at my prior work or acts, I try to remember that it's not the work that's changed; it's me. We're all growing and learning; a new perspective lets me see new sides (some of them unpleasant) of what I did before. I say to myself, "I could do that better now, if I did it again."
And that means that my life between then and now has been worth it.
The summer interns probably don't want unsolicited advice, so I try to stop myself from giving it. Perhaps the essence of maturity is in knowing when to learn from someone else's mistakes. Another summer's heat has burned another layer of experience into me; another wrinkle of wisdom makes its way into my stubborn head.
Sumana Harihareswara writes for Bay Area Living each week. You can write to her at email@example.com.